Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA says incomplete recordkeeping may be hiding higher worker injuries

An article in the March 11 issue of Business Week magazine, “Caution: Stats May Be Slippery,” highlighted OSHA efforts to ensure accurate recordkeeping on worker injuries and illnesses. The article, which featured interviews with workers and corporate safety representatives, quoted Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA David Michaels’ concerns that safety achievements may have been exaggerated at some industrial companies. This hypothesis is supported by the IAMAW Safety and Health Department and other international unions. The Assistant Secretary revealed in the article that the statistics OSHA has on workplace injuries are incomplete and, in some cases, inaccurate. Michaels concerns grew after a Government Accountability Office report last year revealed that some workers don’t report serious injuries — such as broken arms and gashed legs — out of fear of being fired. The report also found that some employers underreport worker injuries to reduce their insurance premiums. The Corporation for Re-Employment and Safety Training (IAM CREST) the non-profit organization sponsored by the IAMAW designed to provide job re-entry and safety training services has advocated this verity for many years in its training delivered to IAM Members and their employers. 

Employers who ignore OSHA’s rules and risk workers’ lives should pay higher penalties, Michaels told Congress in testimony supporting the goals of the Protecting America’s Workers Act on March 16. Michaels was giving testimony on Capitol Hill “Safe jobs exist only when employers have adequate incentives to comply with OSHA’s requirements. Meaningful penalties provide an important incentive to do the right thing,” said Michaels to the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. Monetary penalties for violations of the OSH Act have been increased only once in 40 years. Michaels offered a revealing disparity between OSHA penalties and those of other agencies: In 2001, a tank full of sulphuric acid exploded at a refinery killing a worker and literally dissolving his body. OSHA’s penalty was only $175,000. Yet, in the same incident, thousands of dead fish and crabs were discovered, allowing an EPA Clean Water Act violation amounting to $10 mill ion — 50 times higher. “Unscrupulous employers who refuse to comply with safety and health standards as an economic calculus will think again if there is a chance that they will go to jail for ignoring their responsibilities to their workers.”

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